Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Further Thoughts on Gun Control

A recent Guardian editorial speaks to the impossibility of gun control in America.  As I recently noted the Giffords shooting in Arizona as an example for the need for stronger gun control legislation, many of the responses to my piece have noted the impossibility of gun control in the United States, a sentiment echoed in the Guardian.

The argument advanced is that the majority of the country would like stricter gun control, however it is a fringe group, in the form of the NRA that is able, through the control of gun-loving swing voters.  As a result, the argument goes, gun control is rendered impossible as those swing factions manage to leverage incredible political clout preventing Congress from acting.

This is similar to the argument leveraged against health care reform.  While a wide margin of Americans were initially said to have supported socialized medicine, lobbying on the part of pharmaceutical companies and right-wing minority groups largely prevented meaningful reforms for decades.  This also resulted in the watered-down set of health care reforms that were eventually passed last year that seem to leave nobody happy, although this will likely change as more of the benefits of the reforms kick in.  Misrepresentation of what makes-up the current health care legislation may also further undermine it's popularity.

The question becomes, what prevents gun control from following a similar set of problems?  Equally importantly, while more people support stricter gun control in the immediate aftermath of the Giffords shooting, as memories of the shooting fade, this is likely to again be less the case.  Reports that the Giffords shooting has resulted in a run on Glocks in Arizona is further terrifying that the odds appear long for gun controls. 

Despite this, just because gun controls are likely to be politically unpopular does not make them any less necessary.  It is true that the United States possesses a much stronger gun culture than that found in Europe, and once guns have been purchased, it appears incredibly difficult to see them removed from circulation, and this is a real shame.  The assault weapons ban should be reinstated because it reduced the overall number of assault weapons in circulation (even if it didn't eliminate them altogether) while the elimination of open-carrying laws would limit the number of hand-guns within public venues.  People should not be allowed to brandish weapons in public places, and the whole idea of allowing concealed weapons is, at best, an utterly insane idea because it places the general public at a whole of increased risk.  This is because the mere presence of guns makes them much more likely to be used.

Additionally, the other argument against gun control has been that it is hypocritical because alcohol, which is widely available has been implicated in far more crimes and accidents than guns have.  As a result, why focus on guns when we should be focusing on alcohol as well?  I think that this argument is fallacious and misleading.  While I agree that alcohol poses a net societal harm, the design behind alcohol, unlike an assault weapon, is not to kill.  It is true that alcohol impinges judgement and frequently results in people making foolish choices that can have deadly consequences, however alcohol is not, a weapon in the same way an assault weapon is.

Further, substance addiction and specifically alcohol abuse, is a very different problem than that of weapons availability and must be responded to Alcohol is more strictly controlled than weapons availability and must be responded to differently.  Their exist rehabilitation and clinical programs to mitigate negative personal and societal impacts of alcohol misuse, whereas, this is not a possibility for gun misuse.  Gun misuse is a zero-sum game that is likely to result in death or injury for the victims.  This is not a forgone conclusion with alcohol abuse, and moreover, the net affect of someone drinking one too many is unlikely to result in problems unless the person decides to drive or behave in a violent or inappropriate fashion after imbibing.

It is true that many gun owners, like many drinkers, will behave responsibly and the argument goes, it is unfair for them to suffer as a result of what a few violent and disgruntled individuals do.  Again, this comes down to an argument about what the intent of legislation should be, the affect upon society and what the intent of the substance or thing posing a risk to society is.  A gun has one primary purpose, and that is to do violence.  The supposed function of a gun to deter violence, through threat, is a secondary function.  Our societal relationship with alcohol is probably unhealthy, but our relationship with guns is equally unhealthy, and it can be argued that the unhealthy exercise of guns, specifically assault weapons, has much more to do with the primary purpose of guns. 

Again, this is different from the ownership of a rifle say for hunting, where the primary purpose is slightly different.  The hunting industry has done much to self-regulate and serves several important conservationist purposes in culling herds, targeting invasive species and using revenues to restore natural habitats.  Hunters are not using assault weapons however, and it can be soundly argued that the rationale behind owning an automatic pistol and behind owning a hunting rifle shows discreet difference.

The sort of gun control I advocate for would be a system akin to that of the Swiss.  In Switzerland, if a person wants a gun they would be required to submit a proposal as to why they wanted the weapon, undergo extensive psychological screening, and participate in a gun safety course.  Assault weapons, extended magazines and the like should not be legally available to civilians and concealed weapons should not be legally allowed.  This should also apply to law-enforcement officers, as in Britain, in which very few uniformed policemen carry a gun, which has been shown to reduce the incidence of police violence and accidental killings of the innocent by the police, which have been abundant within the United States.

The purpose behind gun control should be to establish a more healthy relationship with guns with the aim (no pun intended) towards greater safety and health across society as a whole.  Gun rights should be treated with the gravitas that guns, with all of their life-ending power, should command.  To continue with the status quo is unethical in that it favors the rights of the few as the expense of wider safety and security for society as a whole.


Murdoc said...

BTW: Hunters are not using assault weapons however

If, by "assault weapons," you mean the weapons banned by the 1994 AWB and weapons similar to them, you're wrong.

Alex Deley said...

Murdoc, you'll find I assert the exact opposite of what you seem to think I am asserting. Namely that what hunters are using are not buying assault weapons. I appologize if my writing is not absolutely clear.

Sean D Sorrentino said...

"while the elimination of open-carrying laws .... People should not be allowed to brandish weapons in public places,"

Brandishing is waving in a threatening manner. Carrying a gun in a holster on your hip is not "brandishing."

"and the whole idea of allowing concealed weapons is, at best, an utterly insane idea"

Why is it insane?

"because it places the general public at a whole of increased risk."

You can show this, with evidence, right? You aren't just making this up are you?

"This is because the mere presence of guns makes them much more likely to be used."

While it is certainly true that you can't use an item you don't have, this doesn't constitute an argument.

Will you agree that it is sometimes necessary to kill someone else, and that killing a person can be a moral act? Or are you of the opinion that it is better to die rather than to defend yourself at the cost of the life of your attacker? This is the true issue being discussed. We can get all into the weeds about what types of guns are acceptable to you and which are not, but the actual argument is whether or not a private citizen has the right to kill another private citizen in self defense. I say he does. What do you say?

Reading your response to Murdoc, perhaps you should define what you mean by "assault weapon." If you are attempting to say that semi-auto rifles with detachable box magazines are not widely used as hunting rifles in this country then you are very mistaken. They are generally of a larger caliber than the standard US Military .223 Remington if the intended game is a deer, but they are essentially identical guns to what you are referring to as "assault weapons."

Alex Deley said...

Please see my previous post entitled "Guns Over Arizona". In it you will find links to numerous scientific studies all of which demonstrate a repeated and very real net societal risk posed by guns. Gun availability correlates directly with increased crime rates, violence, etc. There are very real reasons why every other developed country has stricter gun control laws than the United States- largely because gun control works and reduces risk to society as a whole. Assault weapon availability - particularily availability of automatic pistols endangers the rights to reasonable safety for the rest of us. That is why it is insane - it is the trumping of the rights of the multitudes so that the few can carry things that pose serious risks to the rest of us as a result of their destructive potential.

Mark said...

By your logic, Mr. Deley, we really ought to get on this whole automobile issue. Except... wait, wait... you have no Constitutional right to drive an automobile. Taking some editorial liberty with your "response" to Mr. Sorrentino (gratuitous quotations marks meant to imply that you did not actually address anything in the aforementioned post) it could read a little something like this, should it refer to our shameful American automobile culture:

"...it is the trumping of the rights of the multitudes so that the few can rapidly transport themselves from point A to point B that pose serious risks to the rest of us as a result of their destructive potential."

I'll leave aside, for a moment, your odd use of the term "assault weapon", primarily because it is a term with no real bearing on firearms. However, if you are familiar with academic writing, you'll doubtless understand that you can't expect to be taken seriously when your reason for failing to properly cite your sources is "But, I cited them in an earlier post..."

Back to the assault weapon thing, perhaps you could define an assault weapon for me. I ask because, I've been shooting for 26 years, 15 of which were in the US Army, and I have never found a true professional at arms refer to any firearm as an assault weapon. Since you appear to have lumped automatic pistols in with assault weapons, is it safe to assume that non automatic pistols are assault weapons? Interesting. Further, would you care to cite a scientific study highlighting the number of people murdered by long rifles with detachable magazines and in a caliber larger than 22?

Could you also, perhaps, highlight a peer-reviewed study that demonstrates a correlation between legally obtained firearms (or assault weapons, if you are more comfortable with that term) and an increase in crime or a decrease in "reasonable safety"? I ask because you correctly point out that the cat is essentially out of the bag and, as worn out a cliché as it is, when you outlaw firearms, only criminals will have them.

Last, I ask you what right you have to infringe upon my right to defend myself, violently if need be? Am I to simply allow any one that would cause me harm or remove my property in an abbreviated barter arrangement to do as they wish while I lay unarmed and prostrate? Moreover, if I see you being physically assaulted and see that you are about to be deprived of your life extra-judicially, should I be denied the right to defend your life, with a firearm if need be?

I'll tell you what Mr. Deley, if you agree to follow me wherever I go, watch over me while I sleep and guard my domicile as necessary, you may have all of my firearms. However, you must be able to engage anyone* in 2.5 seconds or less that intends to remove my human rights. I suspect you have neither the moral nor physical stomach for such action but, if I am so terribly dangerous with my oh-so-scary evil black rifles and pistols, perhaps you, and the rest of your morally superior ilk, wouldn't mind defending me from those that would do me harm.

*This includes zombies Mr. Deley.

Murdoc said...

Assault weapon availability - particularily availability of automatic pistols

You keep using the term "assault weapon" but it doesn't seem like you know what an "assault weapon" is.

Alex Deley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alex Deley said...


You have posited a set of hypothetical scenarios that are not borne out in data. Studies have repeatedly shown that you are far more likely to use a firearm by accident against a family member or friend that you are against an intruder. Regardless of how you paint the picture, to me, the data makes this a null argument. Additionally, the mere presence of guns, the data indicates, substantially increases the likelihood of homicide. You want to be safer? Remove guns. It's fairly simple.

As for cars, the primary function of a car is not as a weapon. Certainly they can serve as weapons; however, the sole function of an automatic weapon is to rend violence. That is the distinction. Further, those that drafted the second amendment also did not foresee automatic weapons - the musket was a decidedly unrefined instrument with nowhere near the killing capability of what is available today.

You can read what you want to into the 2nd amendment although, as I noted in my guns over Arizona piece, the "well regulated militia" that prefaces the second amendment seems to be defined within the constitution as something akin to the National Guard. Given that the army was constitutionally required to disband after every major conflict and the fear was that the British might re-invade - the rationale behind the second amendment strikes me as fairly void when taken in a more modern context in which we have a standing army.

Further, I understand that regulation is very difficult, but I am not convinced that the second amendment, as it stands, is necessarily a good idea as a whole, but we can disagree on this. I do not debate that ownerships of arms is your right, my argument is that more reasonable regulation of what can be owned is very much a fair exercise of the police power that is also found within the constitution. The Supreme Court, particularly during the Berger years upheld gun regulation as a normal function of the police power, which allows for regulation based on the health, safety and morals of a community. The now expired assault weapons ban was constitutionally upheld under public health and safety considerations. Much regulation is permissible under the police power. I advocate in my piece for firmer gun control standards, akin to European standards which have been shown to result in far, far fewer gun related deaths.

Effectively, you are asserting that your individual right to safety through gun ownership, which data indicates is illusory entitles you to put everyone else increasingly at risk. We can disagree on this, but I feel that we should have data driven policy and that guns have repeatedly been shown to pose enormous risk to society. I also feel that you have failed to present real data in your argument that gun ownership reduces your risk. Instead you have inveighed repeatedly that it is simply your right. The question I ask is, to what extend should it be your right given the damage that gun availability repeatedly does to society as a whole, of which there is a great deal of empirical data. To me, you still have all of your work ahead of you in making your point.

Alex Deley said...

The semantics of how I define assault weapon aside, I think I have been quite clear as to what should be available. I support a ban on everything that was banned by the now expired assault weapons ban. I also support a ban on all automatics, and basically anything that's primary function is not for hunting or anything that is easily convertible to automatic or semiautomatic. Pistols I think require further regulation because they are concealable. Again, I think that the Swiss gun regulations make an enormous amount of sense and something similar should be replicated here.
For a no way authoritative summary:

Mark said...

I was fully prepared to engage you in keen debate. Then I saw that your sole citation in your responses is a Wikipedia article.

If that is your go to source, I fear that I can only respond in kind: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criticism_of_Wikipedia

Sleep tight Mr. Deley, those with guns, whether you like it, ensure your right to do so.

Alex Deley said...


Again, please read my previous post "Guns Over Arizona", (http://thenewinternationalism.blogspot.com/2011/01/guns-over-arizona.html) in which I link to a handful of rigorous studies. Perhaps if you bothered to read where I pointed to where I have already written about the data, rather than requiring me to cut and past the same tired links again in the comments section of this post, we could get somewhere, no?

I used the Wikipedia link as an outline of what Swiss gun control policy looks like. I noted that it was in no was definitive. Basically, rather than reading the studies I noted that I linked to in said previous post, you have decided to play this rhetorical trick. I can find you a Swiss site if you want that outlines said regulations, but my guess is that it will likely be in French or German.

Sean D Sorrentino said...

"in which I link to a handful of rigorous studies."

There are no "rigerous studies." Every time someone pretends that they have shown a correlation between gun control and crime control the study gets slammed for all kinds of bad science. Every time that someone does a meta study, ie a study of all the studies, they come to realize that there is no corrolation between gun control and crime rates.

Alex Deley said...


Present evidence that the studies have been disproved rather than asserting it. The studies that I linked to in my 'Guns over Arizona' piece were all conducted by neutral sources and the methodology behind them was verified. Additionally they were all published in rigorous scholarly journals.

Honestly, though, I don't think that this conversation can go anywhere. If you are so ideologically predisposed towards your position that you discount any evidence that holds otherwise, there is no sense in debating. I repeat, I have repeatedly pointed towards studies that indicate that gun availability presents a societal danger and compromise public safety. You and Mark (who has now deleted his comment) have responded by pointing to an ideological rationale, namely you feel it is your right to self-defense. I don't question that the two of you are likely responsible gun owners. I simply think that certain types of guns, the ease with which guns can be purchased, concealed weapons permits and other aspects of gun regulation pose an enormous risk to society and that this is repeatedly implicated by data.